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'Three ways councils have tapped into the power of data'

Tom Symons
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Running a city or local authority is, to a great extent, about managing and responding to information.

Digitalisation and the improved collection of data, including via sensors and better IT, are making it even easier for councils to improve or design new services, navigate budget cuts and support the local economy.

Here are three ways that councils across the country are using this data to their and their community’s advantage, detailed in Nesta and the Local Government Association’s case study report Wise Council.

Supporting vulnerable families

Newcastle City Council has put data at the heart of how it delivers social work, embedding data analysts within frontline teams to establish how they can best support families. Using data analysis, those entering the system are matched to the team best able to support their specific needs, such as children with challenging behaviour or at risk of abuse. Data analysis found that 20% of parents of children at risk of physical abuse had a diagnosed personality disorder, and 60-70% had themselves experienced sexual or physical abuse as children. Based on this data the council changed the support provided to these families. A data dashboard has also been produced displaying information about needs, statutory timescales and engagement with other services, which social workers use to manage their caseloads.

Readying city roads for winter

Birmingham City Council is using data generated by sensors to create a more responsive and seamless city. One initiative uses air temperature sensors on roads to manage responses to winter weather such as ice and snow. The sensors, alongside weather stations installed by the Met Office, provide data about air temperature on an hourly basis. The data from temperature sensors is analysed back at base and fed through to the city’s fleet of gritters, telling them which areas need gritting in order of priority.

Measuring the impact of services

Kent CC has created a health and social care data warehouse, which is in effect a laboratory setting to test the effectiveness of different programmes and services. The data set comprises pseudonymised information about the 1.5 million people in Kent. Using comparison studies, Kent generates information about which services to commission, recommission or stop. Examples include evaluating the impact of home safety visits carried out by Kent Fire and Rescue Service on A&E attendance, evaluating a pilot of a reconfigured GP practice with additional services for people with long-term health conditions for its impact on acute care usage, and analysis of the impact of a falls prevention service.

These are just some of the ways councils are using data, featured in Wise Council, which we hope will inspire local policymakers to consider new approaches to capturing and using data so that everyone benefits from it.

Tom Symons, principal researcher in government innovation, Nesta

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